Nationals' Top 5 left fielders: Camerato's take

April 28th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their careers while playing for that club.

These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only. If you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Jessica Camerato’s ranking of the top five left fielders in Nationals/Expos history. Next week: center field.

1. , Expos (1979-90)
Key fact: Raines was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2017.

Glance at the Expos/Nationals leaderboards, and Raines’ name pops out across multiple categories. In his 1,452 games over 13 seasons with Montreal, Raines established himself as the franchise leader in WAR (48.2), runs scored (947), singles (1,163), triples (82), walks (793), runs created (1,047), stolen bases (635), stolen base percentage (85.7) and win probability added (38.9).

His 48.2 WAR, per Baseball Reference, is not only the highest among the franchise’s left fielders, it is second to only Gary Carter for Expos/Nationals players at any position. Additionally, Raines' .301 batting average is tied for second with Jose Vidro, trailing Vladimir Guerrero.

Top 5 lists: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS

Among franchise left fielders, Raines is at the top in nearly every statistical category, including plate appearances, at-bats, hits, home runs, runs, doubles, RBIs and stolen bases.

In total, Raines slashed .301/.391/.437 with an .829 OPS and 131 OPS+ with Montreal.

“He was a tremendous leadoff hitter with power and speed,” said F.P. Santangelo, a former Expo (1995-98) and current Nationals television analyst. “He could steal a base when everybody knew he could steal a base. … It's if it’s a tie ballgame or you’re down by one and you get on in the eighth inning and the whole ballpark knows you’re going to steal, and you still steal a base, that’s the true value of a stolen base to me. Tim Raines was a guy who everyone could know he was going in a big situation, and he’d still steal the base.”

Raines led all of baseball in stolen bases in 1981 and ‘84, and he topped the National League in the two seasons in between. He ranks fifth all-time in career stolen bases (808). Raines won the '86 NL batting title by hitting .334 with an NL-best .413 OBP, taking home a Silver Slugger Award that year. He also earned seven consecutive All-Star selections -- including his first in 1981, when he finished second in Rookie of the Year Award voting -- and he was named Most Valuable Player in the ‘87 All-Star Game.

2. , Expos (1990-96)
Key fact: Alou was named Expos Player of the Year by the BBWAA in 1994.

Alou, the second overall pick in the 1986 MLB Draft, was acquired by the Expos from the Pirates in ‘90. It was in Montreal where he began to lay the foundation for his 17-year Major League career.

Alou finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 1992, and he had a breakout campaign only two seasons later. In '94, Alou slashed .339/.397/.592 with a .989 OPS and 143 hits. That season, he garnered his first of six All-Star selections, the first of two Silver Slugger Awards and he came in third in the NL Most Valuable Player Award voting.

“He was a pure hitter. A pure hitter,” Santangelo said. “I used to hit in his group for two, three years every day in batting practice. The ball just had a different sound coming off his bat. He never used batting gloves, always bare hands. Of all the players I played with throughout my career, he was the one with the least amount of movement in his approach, in his swing. He would just stand there like a statue, get locked into his stance, set his hands and just swing, almost flat-footed. His head never moved. It seemed like he got two hits every night.”

Alou manned left field in 324 of his 608 games with the Expos. At the position, he ranks second in RBIs (212) and third in plate appearances (1,308), hits (345) and doubles (81). Overall, Alou hit .292/.349/.489 with a 120 OPS+ as a member of the Expos. For the majority of his time in Montreal, Alou played for his father, Felipe, who managed the team from 1992-2001.

“He was a tremendous teammate,” Santangelo said. “One of my favorites ever.”

3. , Nationals (2018-present)
Key fact: Soto hit three home runs in the 2019 World Series.

Soto is only 21 years old, and what he has accomplished in just his first two seasons puts him on this list. This young talent already is on his way to baseball stardom. In his short career, Soto has hit .287/.403/.535 with a .937 OPS and 140 OPS+. Last year, he tied Anthony Rendon for a team-high 34 home runs and was second with 110 RBIs. Turns out, that was just the beginning.

“Almost Rookie of the Year his first year, then he backs it up with a World Series championship,” Santangelo said. “It seems like every at-bat, the guy gets better and better.”

During the Nationals' World Series run, Soto emerged. He smashed five home runs and recorded 14 RBIs with a .927 OPS in just 17 games. Soto became only the fourth player to hit a World Series homer before turning 21, along with Miguel Cabrera, Andruw Jones and Mickey Mantle. In fact, only seven players in history -- Mike Trout, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Rogers Hornsby, Ty Cobb, Mel Ott and Mantle -- have hit better than Soto through age 21.

Defensively, Soto led all left fielders last season with 273 putouts. He also topped NL left fielders with a .993 fielding percentage, committing two errors.

Despite having played in just 263 regular-season games, Soto is second among the franchise's left fielders in home runs (55), third in RBIs (153) and fourth in hits (273). Again, at 21.

“He’s going to be No. 1 in this franchise when it’s all said and done,” Santangelo said. “But he also could be the No. 1 left fielder in the history of the game when it’s all said and done. That’s how good he is.”

4. Warren Cromartie, Expos (1974, '76-83)
Key fact: Cromartie played the second-most games in left field (483) in Expos/Nationals history.

Cromartie played all but one season of his 10-year Major League career in Montreal. Among franchise left fielders, he is second in runs (225), hits (541), doubles (118) and triples (18), as well as fourth in RBIs (153).

Playing in left, Cromartie led the NL in putouts from 1977-79, and assists and double plays from '78-79. His 1.8 Defensive WAR in '78 was the eighth-best in the NL that season.

Overall, Cromartie slashed .280/.335/.402 with Montreal. He ranks eighth in the franchise with 1,063 hits. Following his time with the Expos, Cromartie became an award-winning player on the Yomiuri Giants in Japan.

5. , Nationals (2006)
Key fact: Soriano’s 46 home runs in 2006 are the most by an Expos/Nationals player in a single season, and his 119 runs rank third.

Yes, Soriano only played one season in Washington. But let’s take a look at what he accomplished in that period of time. A second baseman/infielder for most of his career, Soriano transitioned to left when he joined the Nationals. That season, he led NL left fielders in putouts (326) and assists (22). Combine that with a 46-homer, 41-stolen base offensive performance, and he earned an All-Star selection and Silver Slugger Award in 2006. Soriano hit .277/.351/.560 with a .911 OPS for the Nats.

Honorable mentions
Henry Rodriguez, Expos (1995-97, 2002)
Rodríguez earned his first and only All-Star selection in 1996 when he hit 36 home runs with 103 RBIs. Among the franchise's left fielders, he is third in homers (53) and fifth in RBIs (151) while ranking 10th in games played. Rodríguez hit .254/.311/.500 with the Expos.

Brad Wilkerson, Expos/Nationals (2001-05)
Wilkerson began his eight-year Major League career with the Expos, and finished second in Rookie of the Year votes in 2002. When the franchise moved to Washington, Wilkerson hit the Nationals' first grand slam and became the first Nats player to hit for the cycle. Overall, he slashed .256/.365./.452 in five seasons with the franchise.